Feature #10552

[PATCH] Add Enumerable#frequencies and Enumerable#relative_frequencies

Added by brianhempel (Brian Hempel) about 4 years ago. Updated about 4 years ago.

Target version:


Counting how many times a value appears in some collection has always been a bit clumsy in Ruby. While Ruby has enough constructs to do it in one line, it still requires knowing the folklore of the optimum solution as well as some acrobatic typing:

%w[cat bird bird horse].each_with_object( { |word, hash| hash[word] += 1 }
# => {"cat" => 1, "bird" => 2, "horse" => 1}

What if Ruby could count for us? This patch adds two methods to enumerables:

%w[cat bird bird horse].frequencies
# => {"bird" => 2, "horse" => 1, "cat" => 1}

%w[cat bird bird horse].relative_frequencies
# => {"bird" => 0.5, "horse" => 0.25, "cat" => 0.25}

To make programmers happier, the returned hash has the most common values first. This is nice because, for example, finding the most common element of a collection becomes trivial:

most_common, count = %w[cat bird bird horse].frequencies.first

Whereas the best you can do with vanilla Ruby is:

most_common, count = %w[cat bird bird horse].each_with_object( { |word, hash| hash[word] += 1 }.max_by(&:last)

# or...

most_common, count = %w[cat bird bird horse].group_by(&:to_s).map { |word, arr| [word, arr.size] }.max_by(&:last)

While I don't like the long method names, "frequencies" and "relative frequencies" are the terms used in basic statistics.


add_enum_frequencies.patch (5.81 KB) add_enum_frequencies.patch brianhempel (Brian Hempel), 11/27/2014 07:55 AM

Related issues

Related to Ruby trunk - Feature #9970: Add `Hash#map_keys` and `Hash#map_values`OpenActions
Related to Ruby trunk - Feature #7793: New methods on HashAssignedActions
Related to Ruby trunk - Feature #10228: Statistics moduleFeedback09/11/2014Actions


Updated by workmad3 (David Workman) about 4 years ago

I like this idea, but I think it could be improved by allowing .frequencies to take a block and it will count the frequencies of the return value of the block, similar to .all?, .any? and .none?

This would allow the frequencies method to be useful not just on arrays of strings but also able to be used on more complex data structures without having to do a .map first to massage data into the desired format first.

Updated by brianhempel (Brian Hempel) about 4 years ago

Thanks for the feedback David. I can see a map functionality being useful, but here I will play some arguments against integrating map:

  1. In the future, I was thinking the block could be used to change the weighting: some elements might count as 1, but others are less important so each of them only counts as 0.5. However, I can't think of a good use case for that yet.
  2. any? all? and none? return booleans, not collections. All of the other enumerable methods that return a collection return elements from the original enumerable. For example, my_enum.group_by(&:relation) has elements from my_enum in the hash value arrays. It's a small code smell that my_enum.frequencies(&:relation) would return a potentially large collection that contains nothing from my_enum.
  3. any? all? and none? can exit early, so there's a performance improvement to .any?(&:finished?) compared to .map(&:finished?).any?. There would be little performance improvement here because frequencies always has to walk the entire collection.

On the other hand, here is one good argument for integrating map:

  1. Enumerable#count takes a block to specify what to count, and frequencies is basically count, but on all elements at once.

Updated by duerst (Martin Dürst) about 4 years ago

frequencies is essentially a group_by with the values mapped with size/count.

So assuming something like issue #9970 or issue #7793 gets accepted, it could simply be written as
%w[cat bird bird horse].group_by {|x| x}.map_values {|v| v.count }
or, if we get an identity method (*), as:
%w[cat bird bird horse].group_by(&:identity).map_values &:count

While this may not be very short, it's a concise description of what actually happens. I think it would be better for Ruby to improve how such general transformations can be written, rather than add more and more specialized methods methods such as (relative_)frequency. Such methods better would go into a statistics package (see 10228; would be good to have, too, of course.)

(*) I thought we had an issue for this, but couldn't find it.

Updated by brianhempel (Brian Hempel) about 4 years ago

Yes, I would rather see Hash#map_values in Ruby before Enumerable#frequencies. However, if both map_values and frequencies were added, then we might not need relative_frequencies, since calculating it becomes cleaner:

array = %w[cat bird bird horse]
array.frequencies.map_values { |n| n.to_f / array.size }

I think that counting everything up is more like pre-statistics. I want to count things more often than I want to take a mean or a standard deviation. Also, most statistical measures operate only on collections of numbers. In contrast, counting frequencies works on collections of anything, not just numbers.

We could call the method counts instead of frequencies to make it sound less like statistics and more like counting.

To revise your example in favor of this patch: if you want the frequencies sorted, the "manual way" becomes longer:

%w[cat bird bird horse].group_by(&:identity).map_values(&:count).sort_by(&:last).reverse.to_h

Updated by duerst (Martin Dürst) about 4 years ago

  • Related to Feature #9970: Add `Hash#map_keys` and `Hash#map_values` added

Updated by duerst (Martin Dürst) about 4 years ago

Updated by duerst (Martin Dürst) about 4 years ago

Updated by Ajedi32 (Andrew M) about 4 years ago

Personally, I'd prefer the form Enumerable#count_by with a block, as this method seems very similar to group_by in my opinion. I also think relative_frequencies is unnecessary, as I think map_values (or transform_values or whatever we end up calling it) would serve that purpose well enough.

Updated by shevegen (Robert A. Heiler) about 4 years ago

I like the word .frequencies - it seems nicer than each_with_object( and also
than group_by.

I do not like the word .relative_frequencies but I can understand why you want this - it
seems more a subpart of statistics though, and would perhaps be better placed into some
extension into ruby (either into math, or perhaps statistics, which could be a
subproject of ruby math).

On a side-note, perhaps we can also improve on ruby statistics functionality a bit. I'd
rather use Ruby than R, speed difference is no issue for me, but Ruby is much nicer to
work with than R.

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